Today Is Spray Your Clothes Day


Spraying outdoor clothes with permethrin (photo by Kate St. John)

Today is April Fools Day but here’s no joke. Now’s the time to spray your outdoor clothes with permethrin to repel black-legged ticks that carry Lyme disease.

Black-legged ticks (Ixodes scapularis), sometimes called deer ticks, are tiny blood-sucking arachnids that transmit the parasite that causes Lyme disease from small rodents to us.

Lyme disease is debilitating and if not stopped early can ruin your life for a very long time. If you live in Pennsylvania you probably know someone who’s had Lyme disease, maybe even yourself. Pennsylvania has the most Lyme disease cases per year in the U.S. — 10,001 of them in 2018 according to this PennLive report.

The predictions for 2019 say Lyme disease will be even worse in Pennsylvania this year. Black-legged ticks need moisture to survive and the past year has been wet. There will be lots of ticks. Watch out!

So how do we avoid getting Lyme disease?

  • Stay away from places where black-legged ticks live,
  • Keep ticks off your skin,
  • Check your body daily for any ticks that got through those defenses.

Unfortunately most of us can’t stay away from tick habitat. It’s in our own backyards.

Black-legged nymphs live in moist leaf litter or at the edge of wooded areas. Many people catch Lyme disease while gardening. Have you been moving damp leaves lately?

Tick habitais on the edge (photo by Kate St. John)

Don’t fool yourself that you’re completely safe in city parks. A 2017 study of Pittsburgh’s regional parks — Highland, Schenley, Riverview and Frick — found infected ticks in all of them. Highland was the worst. Download the study here.

The edge at Frick Park (photo by Kate St. John)

The best defense is to keep ticks off your skin.

  • Stay on-trail as much as possible. (Not possible when gardening!)
  • Wear light-colored clothing so you can see ticks if they get on your clothes.
  • Wear long pants and long sleeves. Before you step off trail, pull your socks over your pant bottoms.
  • To really keep ticks away spray your outdoor clothes — pants, shirts, socks, shoes, jacket, hat — with permethrin. The repellent lasts through six washings. It works really well for me.

And as always, take a shower shortly after coming indoors and check your body for ticks every day. Read more about tick prevention and daily checks at these links.

Get ready for a bad tick year.

Today is Spray Your Clothes Day.

(photos by Kate St. John, map from CDC.gov, black-legged tick diagram from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)

(*) Note: The CDC map of Lyme disease shows reported cases, not all cases. Western Massachusetts & the Adirondacks look Lyme-free because of a difference in reporting.